Date of this Version
DeVault, T.L., B.F. Blackwell, T.W. Seamans, S.L. Lima, E. Fernandez-Juricic. 2014. Effects of vehicle speed on flight initiation by turkey vultures: Implications for bird-vehicle collisions. PLoS ONE 9(2): e87944. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087944.
The avoidance of motorized vehicles is a common challenge for birds in the modern world. Birds appear to rely on antipredator behaviors to avoid vehicles, but modern vehicles (automobiles and aircraft) are faster than natural predators. Thus, birds may be relatively ill-equipped, in terms of sensory capabilities and behaviors, to avoid vehicles. We examined the idea that birds may be unable to accurately assess particularly high speeds of approaching vehicles, which could contribute to miscalculations in avoidance behaviors and ultimately cause collisions. We baited turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) to roads with animal carcasses and measured flight initiation distance and effective time-to-collision in response to a truck driving directly towards vultures from a starting distance of 1.13 km and at one of three speeds: 30, 60, and 90 kph (no vultures were struck). Flight initiation distance of vultures increased by a factor of 1.85 as speed increased from 30 to 90 kph. However, for 90-kph approaches there was no clear trend in flight initiation distance across replicates: birds appeared equally likely to initiate escape behavior at 40 m as at 220 m. Time-to-collision decreased by a factor of 0.62 with approach speeds from 30 to 90 kph. Also, at 90 kph, four vehicle approaches (17%) resulted in near collisions with vultures (time-to-collision90 kph. The possible inability of turkey vultures to react appropriately to highspeed vehicles could be common among birds, and might represent an importat determinant of bird-vehicle collisions.